Biogeochemistry of Northern Ecosystems: ES344
Environmental Studies Program
Instructor: Jill Bubier
Clapp Lab 308
phone: 538-2607
e-mail: jbubier@mtholyoke.edu
Office hours by appointment
Class time: Wed 1-3:50, Clapp Lab 224

Spring 2008

Prerequisites: At least two semesters of biology, chemistry, geology or environmental science, and permission of instructor; 1 meeting (3 hours); 4 credits; enrollment limited to 15.


     Global climate models and recent evidence show that ecosystems in the northern latitudes are extremely sensitive to climate change.  This interdisciplinary science course examines boreal, subarctic and arctic ecosystems through the study of nutrient cycling, plant ecology, hydrology, soil processes, and biosphere-atmosphere interactions.   Topics include fundamentals of biogeochemical cycling of major elements such as carbon and nitrogen at scales from the microscopic to global, sensitivity and feedbacks to climate change, and disturbance processes such as fire and permafrost degradation. 
     The course will consist of lectures and discussions, with readings from recent scientific literature.  Each week students will prepare written evaluations of the readings, summarizing the main points and identifying questions for discussion.  Pairs of students will take responsibility for presenting the readings and leading the discussion each class.  Everyone is expected to read the assignments and participate in discussion.  Mid-semester, the class will divide into small groups to debate whether the missing CO2 sink in the global carbon budget could be located in the northern latitudes.   Students will also conduct an in-depth investigation of a biogeochemical topic of particular interest, resulting in a presentation and peer-reviewed research paper.   Detailed outlines with preliminary bibliographies are due before spring break. 
     Although the course is primarily a seminar format, students will have hands-on learning experiences with stable isotope laboratory techniques, trace gas measurements, and field visits to representative northern ecosystems.   There will be one three hour meeting per week.


The primary text is William Schlesinger’s Biogeochemistry, 2nd ed. 1997, with a secondary text by F.S. Chapin III et al. Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology, 2002.   These will serve as excellent background on most of the topics, but the class discussions will focus on papers from the primary scientific literature. 


Write-up of weekly readings 20%
Class participation 20%
Leadership of class discussion 20%
Research paper and presentation 40%

Schedule and Topics

The first part of the course will focus on fundamental mechanisms and reactions including ecosystem, climate, and atmospheric processes.  The second phase will explore major biogeochemical cycles, such as water, carbon, and nitrogen, with a focus on northern latitudes.  Finally, we will examine the interactions between northern ecosystem processes and climate by studying the dynamics of permafrost, fire and trace gas fluxes. 

Jan. 30 Introduction and overview: climate change and northern ecosystems
Feb. 6 Fundamentals of biogeochemical cycling: origins, terminology
Winter ecology field trip; allocation of topics
Feb. 13 Ecosystem ecology: history, definitions, carbon cycle of terrestrial ecosystems, Vegetation and nutrient cycling in northern ecosystems
Feb. 20 Climate and atmospheric chemistry
IPCC reports
Feb. 27 Global carbon cycle and missing CO2 sink: class debate
March 5 Global nitrogen cycle and nutrient cycling
Oxidation-reduction reactions: wetlands

Research projects
Peer review proposals
March 12 Ocean biogeochemistry (Angela Dickens)
Hydrology the arctic water cycle
Research outlines due
March 19 Spring break
March 26 Fire and landscape disturbance
Permafrost and climate change
Peer review outlines
April 2 Terrestrial production/decomposition in northern ecosystems
Environmental controls on ecosystem CO2 and CH4 flux (Sari Juutinen)
Trace gas flux measurements: field and laboratory experience
April 9 Stable isotopes (Beth Hooker)
Laboratory analysis with Steve Dunn
April 16 Peatland biogeochemistry and ecology
Field trip to Granby Bog
First draft paper due
April 23 Ecosystem modeling
Scaling leaf to globe

Peer review first drafts
April 30 Research presentations